Archive for Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dog training eases new pet owners past puppy-love stage

March 19, 2006


My phone rang at 6:45 the other morning while I was getting ready for work. I answered it, and without so much as a "hello," my friend Rita started right in.

"Tell me again why I thought I needed a puppy?" she asked.

Her story, as I understand it, went something like this:

It was 3 a.m., and somewhere in the blissful dark of sleep came movement, then a yowl, a sharp bark and a thump as 9-week-old baby Bert, a standard poodle puppy, jumped from bed to floor. Still half-asleep but knowing what was coming next, Rita tried to swing into action, throwing off her covers and flailing around for clothes and leash as her feet searched for shoes.

"No, no, no," she called out in the dark. "Come here. Come over here, Berp! . . . I mean, Dert! I mean . . . DAMMIT, WHERE ARE MY PANTS?"

She reached for the lamp switch, knocking over books and alarm clock on the way. The light pierced the darkness of the room, but she was already too late. Through squinted eyes she saw baby Bert, feet planted, back end squatted in that all-too-familiar position, happily peeing on the carpet.

Rita watched for a moment and sighed. "Well," she said. "That takes care of that." She shut the light off and drew her legs back under the covers. The mess would still be there to clean up later, but right then, with luck, she figured she might still get another few hours of sleep before he got up again.

I can laugh at this one. Rita has raised many dogs, and I know she'll stick with Bert through the trials and tribulations of puppyhood. But not everyone who brings home a new dog really understands all that's involved in the commitment. Situations like this one may be more than some folks can handle.

"I recommend dog training classes to all my patients who come in with a new pet," says Dr. Bill Bayouth of the Animal Hospital of Lawrence, 701 Mich. "Bad behavior is the number one reason people give up on their animals and take them back to where they bought them, but it could be avoided if they knew how to handle their pets."

Indeed, at the Lawrence Humane Society we try to prevent situations in which pets are adopted and quickly returned. It stresses the animals and makes the adoption experience unpleasant for the owners.

If you've never had a pet before, we recommend you do a little reading before you select your new pal. Our shelter provide handouts that can prepare you for what your cat or dog will need and how you can best ready yourself and your home. A little planning can make the transition much easier for you and your new pet.

Try to familiarize yourself with the kind of animal you're interested in adopting. Visit friends who have pets. Get to know how cats and dogs communicate with people so their behaviors won't be entirely foreign to you.

Keep in mind that kittens and puppies come equipped with internal battery packs that keep them in constant frenetic motion during every waking moment. They're learning about life, and curiosity keeps them checking out everything with their mouths and feet. Their attention span is about a nanosecond - be ready to expend a good deal of energy keeping up with them.

During housebreaking, puppies also need trips outside about every half-hour if you want to prevent accidents in the house. Young animals probably are a poor choice for folks who work or are frequently gone from the house.

Understanding basic commands makes life more pleasant for everyone. When dogs, especially, know the family routine and how they fit into it, they feel more comfortable. They just want to know what's expected of them so they can do it right to please you. You are the only one who can show them what you want.

Training takes a little effort on your part, but it also provides some time for your pet to receive your undivided attention. Simple commands like sit, stay and come are fairly easy to master and can make a world of difference in a pet's behavior. Several organizations around town offer basic training classes at affordable prices and convenient times. Your vet can advise you on your options. For more persistent behavior problems, they can also point you to a qualified animal trainer.

When you come in to select your pet, your best advice will come from the shelter staff. They're professionals who attend regular courses on animal behavior and handling. They know the requirements and temperaments of the various breeds, and by working with the shelter animals daily, they know each individual animal's background, unique characteristics and specific needs.

The Lawrence Humane Society wants your pet adoption experience to be a positive one, for life.

Sue Novak is president of the Lawrence Humane Society board.


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